A Study of Acts 5:38-39
“Refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
Such was the counsel of Gamaliel to those who were madly engaged in the suppression of the truth, and persecution of the apostles and primitive saints. All their efforts thus far had failed to prevent the faithful testimony of the servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, or to intimidate them. The Redeemer has said, “Upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” and his words were no less omnipotent in the utterance of these words than when he called the world into existence, or when the tempests or the seas obeyed him. Indeed his very word is sufficient indemnity for the faith of all his children under all their trials and persecutions. He speaketh the word and it stands fast; he commands and it is done. The counsel of Gamaliel was rational and consistent, whatever were the motives which led him to offer it to the Jewish Sanhedrin, and they are equally as true and appropriate now as when the apostles of the Lamb stood accused before that council.
Refrain from these men.
The context shows the men alluded to were the apostles and witnesses of our Lord, who had been arrested and imprisoned for the testimony of their divine Lord and Master, and liberated by the angel of the Lord, and then re-arrested and again brought before the council. These men were the constituents of the gospel church in its primitive organization, and represent the church of Christ throughout all subsequent ages; for quickened sinners after having gladly received their word, were baptized and added to them, that is, to these men. And they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread and in prayer, and the Lord added unto them daily such as should be saved. The whole church is evidently included, and these men are still to be found on the earth, and still identified by the same discriminating characteristics: steadfast in the apostle’s doctrine. Whatever new fashions, fancies or theories the religious world in its progression may adopt.
There was at that time, there has been ever since, and there still is a strange inclination manifested by the religious world, or the worldly religious, to oppose, annoy, perplex and persecute these men in a variety of ways; nor is the opposition which they encounter alone from the world. The apostle Paul in admonishing the elders of Ephesus, predicted that, “Even of your own selves shall men rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”
Elsewhere he warned the church of God that “perilous times should come; that many should depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.” All the violent persecution the church has endured from anti-Christ, the cruel and murderous edicts, restricted liberties as citizens of the world, the torturing racks and ingenious machines for inflicting dreadful physical sufferings, the executioner’s block and axe, or the stake and fagot, have never proved so hurtful to the church of God, as internal disruptions, dissensions and disorders produced among her members; the sowing seeds of discord, scattering firebrands arrows and death, by false brethren; by men of corrupt minds, who have loved preeminence, and to acquire it have assailed the doctrine, character and reputation of the men of God. History informs us of no age in which the church has not been more or less infested with this description of opposition, except it has been when the fires of persecution from without have burned so violently as to render the religion of the Bible too unpopular and expensive to suit the carnal, selfish notions of nominal professors and graceless hypocrites. The openly avowed enemies of the church with all their instruments of brutal cruelty, has proved a purgative, and the flames of persecution have had a purifying effect, while the treachery of ungodly men within her inclosure has had a corrupting tendency. But neither the one nor the other of these, however much they may harrass or perplex the saints, can ever overthrow the work of God. If the world or Satan had power to overthrow the work and counsel of God, the church would have fallen long ago. But God’s counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure, and it is his good pleasure that his little flock shall inherit the kingdom; it was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and in his own appointed time the God of heaven had set it up, and decreed that it shall stand for ever; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of her cords be broken.
“From age to age she has withstood
The utmost rage of earth and hell.”
But still, unshaken as is the throne of God, and unshaken as is his oath and promise, she remains perfectly secure, for God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved, God will help her, and that right early. She has encountered the storms of persecution, and the floods and rains have assailed her ancient battlements with violence, but she fell not, because she is founded upon the Rock of Ages.
How very different are the counsels and works of men, when applied to matters of religion. Every scheme and device, however cunningly or wisely devised, and every human effort and application unauthorized by the precept of the King, shall certainly come to naught.
How many thousands of religious inventions, societies and institutions for evangelizing the world, arise with great pomp and promise, reach their climax and dwindle back to their original nothingness. Others again in turn are constantly springing up, but all embodying the certain seeds of their own inevitable decay.
All that kind of religion which is or can be produced by the will or works of men, must come to naught. The fruits of modern revivals, which have been effected by excitement and fanaticism, have been like crackling thorns in a momentary blaze, giving a glaring but transient light, only to make the gross darkness which succeeds, the more frightful and doleful. And every failure has proved the soundness of Gamaliel’s counsel, as all time shall show the immutability of the decree of him who said, “Every plant that my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.”
From what is thus clearly demonstrated, let hell despair, but all who trust in God shall rejoice, for they shall be as Mount Zion which cannot be moved; which abideth forever.
What have the children of God to fear?
The enemy may come in like a flood, but the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against the enemy. The heathen may rage, and men of earth imagine vain things, they may resolve to disband the saints, and cast their cords from them, but he that sitteth in the heavens shall hold them in derision, for it is written, “The enemies of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them.” Nor do these fearful threatenings hang impending alone over the devoted heads of those enemies which are outside the organized boundaries of the church of Christ, for “If any man defile the temple of the Lord, him will God destroy.” Then let the sinners in Zion tremble, and let fearfulness surprise the hypocrites. God will protect his little ones from all the rage of their adversaries, and avenge his own elect who cry unto him day and night. They who touch them, touch the apple of his eye, and it were better for them that a mill-stone were hanged about their necks, and that they were cast into the depths of the sea, than that they should offend any of our Lord’s little ones.
By Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, New York.
March 1st, 1859.